After the mental hospital I had an internship. It was at a nursery school. I was supposed to be teaching kids, but it was more like: can you please please not pee right over there? I’d be really grateful. Thanks!!! I was 18. I was still in high school. I’d been left back. This had less to do with mental hospital stuff and more to do with math stuff, but I’ll save that story for another time.
There was this girl there, Maya. She had bright hair and reddish eyes. Fran, the nursery-school-head-mistress person, didn’t like how much attention I paid to her, to Maya. I’d always say, Maya is so special. She’s so smart! Did you see her playing with that clay!!! And Fran would give me a look and be like, all the kids are so special here. Not just Maya—Heather and Sara and Pete, and even little Liz who likes to masturbate in the sandbox.
Whenever I saw Maya I made a point to tell her how she was special. How smart she was and how good it was she didn’t masturbate, not in public, at least. She gave me a look with her red eyes, as if to thank me.
No one told me how special I was. I kept calling Kris, he was my ex. He dumped me in the hospital. He didn’t actually do this physically, he just didn’t pick up the phone. I used to stand there, for hours, and one day I grew roots. They were there. No one else could see them. I had dreams of him unloading me, in the trash. He’d take me out. He’d be good at this. His father Nick was a garbage man. Soon, he too, would be a garbage man. He was practicing, maybe. He smelled too clean—like garbage. Like he was working too hard to hide the smell. He lifted me and threw me in.
Maya liked art. She wanted to be an artist. She liked color and bigness and largeness which is not the same as bigness, it’s different, it’s about feeling—bigness is size—largeness is a mood. We’d talk about this, me and Maya. She’d look at me and know, and nod with those red eyes of hers.
Fran would see this and get annoyed. What are you talking to Maya about? Come play with the other kids. I’d sit there and play with Playdoh and remember Kris, his smell, the garbage. We used to have sex. It was pretty great. I’d shut my eyes and imagine there was a clipper against my nose; I couldn’t smell him, just feel him. His bigness if not his largeness.
My parents would visit me in the hospital. We ate hamburgers. Then my dad would check his watch, but more like there was something on his wrist, a mosquito, maybe, or a tick. I’d say, what’s up with that tick and you might consider getting tested. For Lyme disease.
Sometimes we’d all go out for playtime. Maya would sit there on the side. I’d look at her very proudly. Fran would be annoyed; she wanted her to play. But I knew better. She was saving herself for later, her color, and her largeness or maybe she had to pee; who knows, I’m not a child shrink. I’m a writer. This is what I tell men. I sit in cafés, writing my name, over and over again, smoking Marlboros. One man said, you look very serious and I said, well I’m writing.
What are you writing about?
I covered the paper and smiled mysteriously, or maybe weirdly. My hand twitched. Writing was hard. I wanted to write about Kris and the hospital and Maya and the largeness but it came out wrong. I drew a picture at the top: Maya with her eyes, grinning. The man said, are you an artist and I said no, a writer and he walked away and rolled his eyes and I drank cappuccino and espresso, this is what writers do.
The day I interviewed for the internship I sat on a chair—It made a whoopie cushion noise. I laughed. After I was going to take a walk. I like walks and it was nice out. But I only got as far as the sandbox. There are two sandboxes: outside and inside. The inside one smells like chlorine. The outside smells like pee and gummy bears but the gummy bears are stronger; they’re like, I win. Rwar!!!
I sit there and take my shoes off. Then I put them on. Then I put my coat on. Then I take it off and lie back and use it as a cushion. I stare up at the sun then I realize I’ll go blind, so I don’t. There are children everywhere. They also have that smell of gummy bears and something else—parents maybe, or that thing before the parents, in outer space or in some other life. I think if I dangle my feet in I can reach it.
The kids all look up at me. One reaches as if to tug my feet, then thinks better of it. One mom gives me this look like, what’s going on here. Another kid, Maya maybe or some Maya-lookalike tugs at me. She does this with her eyes and I feel something indescribable, indecipherable. It feels like the color red, or maybe blue. Like walking around a drug store in the middle of the night, looking for tampons but not really. There are some at home, and you know this. And then Phil comes on, Phil Collins, and you just stand there listening to him, to the minor key. It tugs. You stand there with your arms stretched. Some nice civil CVS employee asks, may I help you, please, and you glare at him with your eyes shut, still, not wanting to break the spell.
Leonora Desar's writing has appeared or is forthcoming in River Styx, Passages North, Black Warrior Review, The Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, and Columbia Journal, where she was chosen as a finalist in their winter 2019 fiction contest, judged by Ottessa Moshfegh. Her work has been selected for The Best Small Fictions 2019, the Wigleaf Top 50, and Best Microfiction 2019 and 2020. In 2018, she won third place in River Styx's microfiction contest, and was a runner-up/finalist in Quarter After Eight's Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Contest, judged by Stuart Dybek, and Crazyhorse’s Crazyshorts! contest. She lives in Brooklyn.
To stay up-to-date with Leonora, be sure to follow her on Twitter @LeonoraDesar.